The North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600 mile trail spanning the breadth of 7 states from New York to North Dakota, is the longest hiking path in the country. This August, Joan Young, became the first woman to hike the entire trail. Read on as Joan shares with us her experience of going the distance.
"For most of my life, I've been happier outside than inside. Sometime around the age of eight, I begged to be allowed to sleep in the yard under a tent made from a tarp draped over a rope between two trees" says this avid hiker and blogger. This passion for the outdoors was fueled by participation in the Girl Scouts, which continued through college and led to some lasting friendships. Having an adventurous dad who equipped her with outdoors skills helped too.
After a break to raise her family, Joan returned to hiking when she discovered the North Country Trail just 30 miles from her home in Scottville, Michigan in 1988. A 3 day backpacking trip with her friend Marie Altenau in 1992 had them hooked. Thus began a ritual of hiking each summer. "In 1995, after only about 300 miles, I decided that I wanted to hike the whole distance, estimated then at 3,200 miles" shares Joan.
Changes and additions to the route kept taking place, eventually reaching a total length of 4,600 miles and covering parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. Financial constraints didn’t allow her to simply take a year off and hike the trail in one go. Nevertheless, Joan blazed on, covering a couple of hundred miles each year, at times with Marie for company. She says "Backpackers have to deal with the weather...whatever it is. My most frightening night outside was in a terrible thunderstorm in North Dakota on the trail."
This summer, Joan completed the trail and achieved her goal of being the first woman to do so. Her advice for fellow campers is this "Just get out there and follow your dreams if you want to take on a long hike. Some advance planning is necessary, but almost anyone can do a long hike if they put their mind to it. Even if you can't do long stretches at a time, just getting out whenever you can will move you closer to a goal, or perhaps just closer to really understanding yourself!"
Other than hiking, Joan's other passions are snowshoeing, canoeing, camping, writing and quirky but true, she collects camping Christmas ornaments! It started with a gifted miniature hand-carved canoe paddle and has now grown to a collection of 58 ornaments. The collection includes snowshoes, a series of camping s'mores and so on, some gifted and some bought by Joan herself.
As for future plans, Joan wishes "to complete the concurrent trails: the Finger Lakes Trail in NY and the Buckeye Trail in Ohio. There are a lot of hiking trails of 80-100 miles in length that I've read about that I would love to see as well. I also have some dreams as to writing more about the North Country Trail." Happy trails, Joan!
Joan's book about her hiking experiences, North Country Cache is available at www.booksleavingfootprints.com and many bookstores. To follow Joan's adventures, visit www.myqualityday.blogspot.com. To learn more about the North Country Trail, visit www.northcountrytrail.org.
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